Abusive Supervisor? Time to Document Them Out!

Dr. Ryan Giffen

So much is atstake when a supervisor over exerts their authority and is abusive toemployees.  Some jurisdictions such asCalifornia have employment laws that prohibit abuse, including harassment andbullying.  When a claim is brought forth,be prepared to pay several thousands (or millions) to defend and likely settlethe claim.  It takes only one abusivesupervisor to take your company from the green to the red.  I hear company executives make excuses defendingtheir abusive supervisors, such as, “ohhhhh, him? John? Ha!  Yea….he’s been here for 15 years….he’s just old school.”  Or, “we sent Sally to supervisory training,but I don’t think she’ll ever get it…at least she’s nice though.”  Newsflash folks, the law does not makeexceptions because “that’s just John” or because “Sally is nice.”  The law will always trump excuses….always!  

The research on supervisory abuse ofemployees is supported in a multitude of peer-reviewed research articles.  For example, in their 2016 article on therole of cognitive processes and individual differences in the relationshipbetween abusive supervision and employee career satisfaction, Jiang, Wang, andLin looked into how individuals may perceive abusive supervision.  Three findings came from their research.  First, to no surprise, abusive supervision ofemployees led to career dissatisfaction. Second, newly hired employees had difficulty assimilating into a newwork environment because of abusive supervisory oversight.  Lastly, an employees tenure with the companydeclined, thus leading to turnover.

As company leaders and executives, you are held to a very high standard.  In fact, if you’re the CEO, President, Principal, etc., you have the ‘vicarious liability for the acts of your agents’ (a doctrine in the law known as “Respondeat Superior”).  It’s you’re responsibility to make the call that protects your company, its assets, and the employees (agents) within it.  Failure to do so, may jeopardize everything you’ve worked so hard for.  After all, “The buck stops with you!”  

To conclude, abusive supervision not only impacts the employee but also the organization.  Leadership must do more than simply send their supervisors to training.  Supervisors must better understand that “People are people” as Peter Drucker would say.  They are not machines or robots.  Recognize they have needs, wants, and simply want to feel valued, while treated with dignity and respect.  Just like you and me.  If a supervisor doesn’t want or have the ability to treat others with dignity and respect, it’s time to move on.  Or, as we like to say in HR, “it’s time to document them out!”